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One thing that most experts have discovered about stress and obesity is that they both feed into one another, causing those who suffer from the problems to fall into a downward spiral. The more stress one feels the more one tends to eat, and the more one eats, the more stress they tend to feel. This is something most people have felt at one point or another. People associate periods of high stress with the idea of "comfort food," food that is high in sugar or fat. The problem is that comfort food ultimately causes more stress in the long term, not unlike cigarette smoking.
There are many biological factors in play when it comes to stress and food cravings. Food that is high in carbohydrates (sugars) naturally raises one's serotonin levels. Serotonin in a chemical in the body that is related to happiness. Often people deficient in serotonin suffer from depression. So when the food we are eating physically makes us feel happy, we want to eat more of it. When most of that food happens to be very high fat items like doughnuts and cookies, it suddenly becomes clear how obesity fits into the picture.
Our body works the other way, too. We know tasty and unhealthy food releases chemicals that make us feel happy and want to eat more of it. What we also know is that stress releases chemicals too. When a person suffers from ongoing high amounts of stress their body produces too much cortisol. Cortisol manages the way fat is utilized by the body and can increase appetite and cravings. So when you think that stress releases chemicals that make us hungry, and eating unhealthy food releases chemicals that makes us feel good, it becomes easy to see how stress and obesity are so linked and why it's such a tough cycle to break out of.
The problem that this ultimately leads to is what is called stress eating or emotional eating. Many people who indulge in stress eating don't realize that they're even doing it. It's part of what makes it so dangerous -- when you reach for that candy bar, you're probably not stopping to consider why you are. Many people don't even realize that they have a problem with stress. It tends to creep up on people, and by the time they realize that they no longer feel in control of their life they find themselves caught in the stress eating downward spiral. Eating sugary or fatty food is ultimately not a good way to deal with stress, and trying to break that cycle once it has started is difficult -- and important.
So how exactly does one break out of the stress eating/more stress spiral? Well, there are several things a person should try when they're caught in this trap.
The obesity epidemic is one of the absolute biggest problems facing the United States and many other countries right now. It's a driving force behind heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses. With the bond between obesity and stress being as strong as it is, it becomes clear how important it is to identify and manage the problem.
Understanding how stress is connected and how to manage stress are important steps to becoming healthier and happier. If you are in that cycle, work hard on breaking out of it. If you aren't currently someone with a stress eating problem, be aware of the causes and stay vigilant, because often people won't even realize it's happening when it starts. Manage your stress and stay disciplined -- it's the most important health tip you can learn!